Creating an account with gives you access to more features and services, like our weekly newsletter and other special features just for the film community.

Large article 126535483 marquee

Truth Be Told: The Whistleblower

Kathy Bolkovac risked everything when she discovered her UN colleagues were involved in sex-trafficking. Now Rachel Weisz portrays her remarkable story of courage.

The Whistleblower: Kathy Bolkovac
Andrei Alexandru / Samuel Goldwyn Films


Amid all the summer blockbusters about aliens, cowboys, and little blue creatures, a movie about human trafficking might seem rather out of place. But director/co-writer Larysa Kondracki’s The Whistleblower, based on a true story, isn’t just a heartrending look at young girls being forced into the sex trade; it’s a suspense-filled tale of government corruption, political intrigue, and diplomatic cover-ups.


The Whistleblower features Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci, and John Sayles favorite David Strathairn, in addition to star Rachel Weisz as Kathy Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer and single mother who is offered a high-paying contract position as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Under the auspices of the United Nations, Kathy is assigned to monitor international law in the region, especially in regards to women. What begins as an investigation of local brothels blows up into something much bigger — with U.N. personnel complicit, and even actively involved, in trafficking young Russian, Ukrainian, and Eastern European women. When Kathy reports her disturbing findings to her superiors, she finds herself out of a job — and her life in danger.


Kathy ended up going to the British press with her story; suing the US-based private military contractor, DynCorp, over wrongful dismissal in a British court; and co-writing a book about her experience, The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors And One Woman's Fight For Justice. We caught up with the real-life Kathy Bolkovac, now 51, to talk about the film.


The Whistleblower: Kathy Bolkovac
Toni Salabasev / Samuel Goldwyn Films


Tribeca: Tell us about how you were approached to have your story turned into a movie.


Kathy Bolkovac: Larysa came to me very early on, after I had won my case. I was not exactly thrilled about having a movie done about my story; I didn’t want all that attention and didn’t want to be in the public eye. But I wanted to make sure that it was done properly and that they told the real story. After a few hours of interviewing me, I decided she was quite trustworthy, so I thought, okay.


Tribeca: When was that?


Kathy Bolkovac: I believe it was around 2003, after I won trial in UK, and that was in 2002. But in any case, it was quite a while ago… They say it can take 10 years to make a movie, which is incredible to me.


Tribeca: Did you participate in reading or vetting the script?

Kathy Bolkovac:
I read some early versions of the script. They basically wanted to make sure they were portraying me in a way that I wanted to be portrayed. And to offer corrections — in terms of the way things should be said or done from a police background.


The Whistleblower: Kathy Bolkovac
Cary Fukunaga / Samuel Goldwyn Films

Tribeca: What did you think of the casting choice of Rachel Weisz?


Kathy Bolkovac: Well, when you look at me, I’m a big, tall, powerful blonde, and she’s a petite, gorgeous woman, but she really embodied my character’s spirit. And I really appreciated that they chose such a smart actress to play me, one who also follows the issues and is very choosy about the projects she gets involved in.


The Whistleblower: Kathy Bolkovac
Kathy Bolkovac


Tribeca: Did you feel that the film stayed true to your life?


Kathy Bolkovac: They stayed true to my life while I was in Bosnia for the most part; they took some liberties with my personal life, which was okay. [For example, Kathy had three children, not just one daughter, as the film portrays.] They kept my personal life largely out of it, and simplified it, so they could focus on the issues they needed to focus on.


The Whistleblower: Kathy Bolkovac The Whistleblower: Kathy Bolkovac The Whistleblower: Kathy Bolkovac
David Straithairn, Monica Bellucci, Vanessa Redgrave (all: Cary Fukunaga / Samuel Goldwyn Films)


Tribeca: And what about the Ukrainian girl in the film, Raya, the one you struggle to save — was that an accurate depiction of what happened?


Kathy Bolkovac: There was a girl who was killed; there were several girls who were killed. But Raya was a composite of many girls. I was at an autopsy of a girl who was of Ukrainian descent [like the character of Raya] who had tape wrapped around her mouth and was found floating in the river.


But in real life, I didn’t develop those strong attachments to the girls; it’s something that as a police officer you can never do. That may be the one issue I take with the film, but they had to allow that to happen for the sake of getting the emotion of the story across. But in reality, I tried to separate myself from them. I had worked for 10 years previously in domestic violence and I learned that don’t attach yourself to the victim.


Tribeca: What do you hope that people who see the film take away from it?


Kathy Bolkovac: There are a lot of movies about human trafficking, but this movie is so much more than that. It talks about corruption — internal and external corruption — corporations, NGOs, and the actual dirtiness behind the scenes of trafficking and who’s really involved in it. It’s not just a story about another female victim.


The Whistleblower: Kathy Bolkovac
Andrei Alexandru / Samuel Goldwyn Films

Tribeca: Are you frustrated that DynCorp got off with very little punishment? [None of the DynCorp employees who participated in prostitution- and trafficking-related activities faced criminal prosecution.]


Kathy Bolkovac: Oh, I’m more than frustrated. I’m still pushing for punishment, and I hope that’s one thing that this movie does is make sure that the company — not just the company that fired me, but all government contractors — should be held to higher standards, especially those that are performing police duties. And there should be laws [that allow] us to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing overseas. Right now we don’t have that kind of mechanism; we are only able to do that on domestic soil.


Tribeca: What is your life like now, more than a decade after these events?

Kathy Bolkovac:
Jan [a colleague Kathy met in Bosnia] is wonderful — we’ve been together 12 years. We have five kids between us. He’s still a police officer with the Dutch government. I work for an international company that manages contracts and settlements.


Tribeca: So you are no longer working in law enforcement or with sex-trafficking cases?


Kathy Bolkovac: I don’t do policing anymore. As for helping deter sex-trafficking, I don’t consider myself an activist — I’m more of an advocate for change.


The Whistleblower: Kathy Bolkovac


The Whistleblower opens Friday, August 5. Find tickets.


 Like The Whistleblower on Facebook.


Watch the trailer:



What you need to know today